Humility Before a Great, Incomprehensible God

A personal prayer from Ben Franklin

There’s an interesting little chiasm in Leviticus 8:1-5. (See here for more information on chiasms.)

  • Lev 8:1-2 – God instructed Moses on how to carry out the ordination of Aaron and his sons.
    • Lev 8:3 – God told Moses to assemble the congregation at the entrance of the tent of meeting.
      • Lev 8:4a – Moses did as God commanded him.
    • Lev 8:4b – Moses assembled the congregation at the entrance of the tent of meeting.
  • Lev 8:5 – Moses told the congregation what God had commanded regarding the ordination ceremony.

The ordination ceremony involved killing animals, burning some parts, washing others, handling some organs, and boiling and eating yet other parts. There was bathing, anointing with oil, and splattering and dabbing with blood. Read all of Leviticus 8 for the full ceremony.

If you or I were to put together a ceremony for ordaining a new priesthood, I doubt it would involve bloody toes, eating boiled meat, or sitting outside a tent for seven days. God’s instructions for this event seem almost arbitrary, but Yeshua assured us that every letter is significant. God is never arbitrary. Every command has a reason, even if he doesn’t always explain it to us.

In Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography he admitted to a lifelong tendency toward pride. He tried various exercises to overcome it, but in the end settled for simply hiding it behind kindness and carefully chosen words, which wasn’t a bad strategy. If every prideful person followed his example, ours would be a better world by far.

Unfortunately, Franklin’s pride in his own intellect led him to reject most of the Bible as a factual record of God’s relationship with mankind because so much of what God did and said seemed to him to be arbitrary or nonsensical. If he couldn’t see the utility in a particular command, he rejected it personally, even while generally respecting the beliefs of others.

Feeding the poor, ensuring justice for the accused, respecting the name of God, et cetera… These things made sense to Franklin, so he kept them. But the Sabbath, dietary laws, and others, he found to be devoid of practical purpose. He certainly isn’t alone. Most modern Americans share his opinions on these matters. Most of them, however, can be at least partly excused because of their lack of knowledge of the Scriptures and training in basic logic. Old Ben didn’t have those excuses.

Franklin believed in God and that God had created the universe and mankind. Reason ought to have informed him–as it did most of his contemporaries–that a being of sufficient intellect to have created the universe with all of its physical laws and intricate living systems must of necessity be in some respects far beyond our own ability to comprehend. A man of overwhelming curiosity, Franklin was acutely aware that he could never hope to understand even a fraction of the physical universe in his lifetime, so it would be a mystery to me how he could have concluded that everything about God and his commandments should be so easily grasped.

I say “would be a mystery to me,” because it would be if it weren’t for his admission to excessive pride.

Contrast Franklin with Moses.

Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth. (Numbers 12:3)

When God asked the impossible, Moses obeyed. When God commanded the absurd, Moses obeyed. He might have been embarrassed or inconvenienced or baffled at times, but he still obeyed.

Ben Franklin was a good man–a great man even–but because of his pride, all of his intelligence, experience, and wisdom was worthless compared to Moses’ humility. Two thousand years from now, if Yeshua tarries, Benjamin Franklin will likely have been forgotten by all except the most ardent historians. The name of Moses, on the other hand, will still be as large as ever.

It’s good to consider the “why” of God’s commands. Think about them, meditate on them, debate them. All of these things can bring insight if done in good order. But the one thing we must never do is to reject them simply because we don’t understand or like them. God’s wisdom is as far above ours as ours is above a worm’s. Probably much farther.

Second guessing God’s instructions brought on the fall of the entire human race in Eden. You are mistaken if you think you can get away with it now.

The Restorative Power of Jesus’ Blood

Man was created to be an intermediary between Heaven and Earth, to govern the lower creation in deference to the higher. To accomplish this role we were given bodies with physical and spiritual components. Our flesh and spirit are intended to work together for maintaining, encouraging, and healing the natural world in communion with our Creator and one another.

When Adam sinned, he introduced signal pollution into both of these communication channels, the upward and the downward. We are no longer capable of effectively stewarding God’s Creation, forced into a situation in which we must extract our sustenance from it without inflicting too much damage. We are no longer capable of seeing God face to face. We must have prophets, teachers, intermediaries of all kinds to go up the mountain for us, because we are unable to endure the divine presence. His voice alone is enough to destroy us.

As a partial and temporary remedy to our spiritual injuries, God gave the sacrificial system, detailed most famously in the book of Leviticus. The khat’at (sin offering) in particular illustrates this point most clearly.

The bronze altar of the Tabernacle had horns on each of the four corners representing a connection to Heaven. The blood of the khat’at animal was collected by the priests and then the High Priest would paint these four horns with it, thereby purifying the entire altar. The remaining blood was poured out at or around the base of the altar, making the altar holy and atoning for (covering) it. The blood on the horns (the connection point with Heaven) and the base (the connection point with Earth) served as a sort of signal filter, temporarily removing the noise from our corrupted spiritual communications and allowing the altar to function on a higher plane.

We are like that altar, intended to be a connection between heaven and earth. Yeshua’s blood, shed on Passover, atones for the sins of all who repent and believe in him, restoring our relationship to God and enabling us to communicate with Him. Since we still inhabit fallen bodies and live in a fallen world, we continue to struggle with sin. We fight our evil inclinations daily, repenting for our failures, and continually appealing to God’s grace for His mercy. Ongoing, unrepented sin causes a breakdown in spiritual communication until we can no longer hear God’s voice at all.

We were created for a purpose, but if we are living in sin, we are incapable of fulfilling our purpose.

We were created for a purpose, collectively and each of us individually, but if we are living in sin, we are incapable of fulfilling our purpose. Ramses had wealth, fame, and greater military and political power than any other man on earth, yet his great contribution to history is as the Pharaoh whose defiance of God brought Egypt to the brink of extinction. By clinging to our sin, whatever great contribution we might have had to God’s Kingdom could be reduced to an object lesson in what not to do.

I’m not saying that perfect behavior is a condition of salvation. If it were, no one on earth could be saved. I am only addressing our ability to act effectively as God’s emissary. (Deliberate rebellion against God’s commands is something else entirely, and will have to wait for another day.)

Our great hope, the point of our faith, is that in the day of the resurrection, our bodies will be made new despite our personal failings, and we will be permanently transformed along with our relationships to Creator and Creation. We will be enabled to resume our intended place in God’s order as the connection point between Heaven and Earth. Nature will no longer fight us and we will commune freely with God and peacefully with each other.

That day can’t come quickly enough.

Remember America

The book of Leviticus recounts a number of events and instructions that don’t make a lot of sense to us more “enlightened” folk today: sacrifices, blood, fire, ashes, etc. There is a huge cultural gap between that nation of freed slaves wandering in the desert and us modern Americans living in a land of plenty where slavery has been outlawed for 150 years. They probably had an instinctive understanding of the significance of blood smeared on the bronze horns of an altar, while we recoil in horror. The problem is not with Scripture nor with God’s instructions to Israel, of course, but with our deficient understanding and warped perspective.

Here is something a little nearer to us, though, something to which we ought to be able to relate:

And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying: ‘Take Aaron and his sons with him, and the garments, and the anointing oil, and the bullock of the sin-offering, and the two rams, and the basket of unleavened bread; and assemble thou all the congregation at the door of the tent of meeting.’ And Moses did as the LORD commanded him; and the congregation was assembled at the door of the tent of meeting.
(Leviticus 8:1-4)

Moses called the millions of Israelites together to witness the inauguration of Tabernacle and the Aaronic Priesthood. Only a small fraction of them could have had a good view of the slaughter and subsequent sprinkling, dabbing, and smearing of blood. Many probably craned their necks and strained vainly to hear the proceedings, but on that day they all experienced something that we can share.

Do you see it? The moment that unites Israel with every long-lived nation on Earth?

At pivotal moments like this one, they stood together. They survived the plagues and the sea crossing, and now remember it at Passover every year. Together, they witnessed God’s presence thundering from the summit of Sinai, and still remember it every year at Shavuot. Every nation has a number of such defining moments, the fires that burn political and religious bridges to an ancestral land and people.

For example…

  • April 19, 1775, when a loosely organized band of civilians defended their guns and powder from a trained force of the world’s most powerful military.
  • July 4, 1776, when a gathering of respected and determined men signed the document that formally separated the American colonies from Great Britain.

The things that separate one nation from another are the very things that make a nation strong. Formative events and the subsequent remembrances are vital to the health of any nation. They identify us to the world and to ourselves. They draw us together and keep drawing us so long as we remember them together. Although such traditions can’t save us anymore than they saved the Israelites from being scattered by Rome, no nation can stand for long without the traditions and rituals that serve as a collective memory.

We must remember our history and acknowledge the great events that made us a people.

America is no exception.

If we are to survive as a distinct people, we must acknowledge our identity as a Christian nation, founded on Biblical principals. We must remember our history and acknowledge the great events that made us a people. We must teach these things to our children and ensure that they understand the value of national identity and cohesiveness.

Finally, we must not allow those who do not value America to tell us who and what America ought to be. While our primary citizenship is in heaven and not on earth at all, those of us who keep America’s founding principals in our hearts and minds are America, and those who do not keep them, neither want nor deserve the title.